Highlights and main attractions of the Sabah Islands

The archipelago that contains Sipadan, Lankayan and Mataking islands is widely considered to be one of the top three diving destinations in the world, thanks to its astonishing variety of technicolour tropical fish, sharks and turtles and the infamous ‘Drop Off’ wall that is legendary in diving circles, located close to Sipadan. These islands also offer some of the best beaches of Borneo.

Many visitors to Borneo may come predominantly for the wildlife and rainforest experience, but those who decide to visit the Sabah islands discover a confounding beauty of paradise beaches, turquoise waters and incredible marine life.

Where are the Sabah Islands?

Location and Activities

It was Jacques Cousteau who said of Sipadan “I have seen other places like Sipadan 45 years ago. Now we have found again an untouched piece of art” and it is true that it possesses an enviable geographic location in the heart of one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world. This small, rainforest-covered tropical island rising from a 700 meter abyss in the Celebes Sea is home to a wide variety of underwater life. In particular, the numbers of hawksbill and green turtles are unusually high, and the islanders have a pro-active approach to their conservation with many centres in this region – also known as the Sea Turtle Corridor - that have been established  to provide a protected environment for them to flourish. Diving near Sipadan is almost guaranteed to offer different experiences every time, as you may see life from hammerhead, whale sharks and manta rays, to turtles or a twirling tornado of barracudas and jacks. It's a popular destination on our Borneo holidays.

Although lesser known, there are several other islands of interest that offer natural beauty and comfortable beach-fronted accommodation. Lankayan is situated just a two hour boat ride from Sandakan and is a tropical island of swaying casuarina palms and white sand beaches. Lankayan even has its own turtle hatchery making it a prime spot for those looking to observe them. Mataking is one of the newer dive locations in the Celebes Sea, it is unhurried and rarely busy, so it has the feeling of being a secluded island paradise. The dive sites at Mataking are also attractive, being slightly further removed from the main action, and they are well-known for their easy and diverse macro-diving. It is also quick and easy to visit the dive sites at nearby world-famous Sipadan from Mataking. Kapalai Island is another fantastic dive resort with some great reefs to explore, just a fifteen minute boat ride from Sipadan.

Accommodation on Kapalai consists of luxury wooden chalets built right out to sea from a sand bar, each with its own balcony and direct access to the waters beneath you which sparkle with life. On both Mataking and Lankayan, sumptuous chalets line the sandy beach with amazing access to dive sites and romantic views to the turquoise waters.

These are great places to relax after a wildlife safari in the jungles of Borneo, or even for that idyllic honeymoon.


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